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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Suite in five movements Op. 93 (1934) [22:57]
Symphony in F sharp minor Op. 10 (1894) [40:10]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Christof Escher (Suite)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Christof Escher (Symphony)
rec. 2004/2011, Radiotelevisione Svizzera Lugano; Mosfilm Studios, Moscow
STERLING CDS1104-2 [63:07]

This is the second volume in Sterling’s Juon Orchestral Works series. It begins with the very fine Suite in five movements, which shows the composer’s complete disregard for atonality and neo-classicism. Its sound world is thoroughly late-romantic, and Juon has produced a work that should be popular. The opening movement is a miniature tone poem, at times almost like a slow flute concerto. It is a gentle meditation, and so beautiful are the sounds he magics from the orchestra that I immediately played it again after the first listen. The second movement is a waltz with a brief quotation from “Tea for Two”. Next is a nocturne for strings alone which is not quite as memorable as it should be, although the soaring solo violin is lovely. It is followed by a “Caucasian serenade”, in which the composer uses an oriental-sounding melody on the oboe and cor anglais that rise above the steady accompanying tread of tambourine and timpani. It is most affective – shades of Ippolitov-Ivanov! The suite finishes with a march, in which piano and xylophone are added to the standard instruments. There is an almost Massenet-like lightness of touch, here and in the preceding movements. The Swiss-Italian orchestra play it with finesse, and the recording is first-rate.

The change in recorded acoustic as the symphony opens is very noticeable. The Moscow orchestra is set well back in a slightly boomy sound picture that sometimes reduces the bass of the orchestra to a rumble. But the ear soon adjusts, and one is in no way detracted from the fine performance. It was first performed in Russia, and although Juon composed it in Berlin, it is clear thar Russian musical style is in the composer’s mind. The score was lost for over a hundred years, until his grandson re-discovered it. The slow introduction has fortissimo trombones, and the main theme has definite Russian sound to it. It is contrasted by the second theme that sounds rather folk-like. The andantino second movement is on the cellos with the violins playing pizzicato, and sounds very Tchaikovskian, as does the last movement, which opens quietly leading to a related lyrical second theme. After several changes in tempo the movement builds up a head of steam, leading to a grand climax.

Given that Juon was just 23 when he composed it, it is a most impressive first foray into orchestral music, and the orchestra play it well.

This is a most enjoyable CD, particularly the Suite, a delightful discovery. The booklet in German and English is most informative.

Jim Westhead

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Stephen Greenbank

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